Skip to main content

History. Heritage. Heart. You feel all three of those words the moment you set foot on a property brought to life by Conn’s Hospitality Group.

Conn’s Hospitality Group traces its roots to 1984, when Roy Conn opened Roy’s Café in a rented building in Springfield. More than 75 years later, Roys son, Court Conn, along with his wife, Karen, and Court’s sons, Adam, and Casey, oversee a diverse portfolio of historic businesses. The portfolio includes the Inn at 835, Conn’s Catering, Obed & Isaacs Microbrewery & Eatery, Elkhart Hill Farm, Elkhart Station, and Vinegar Hill Mall Complex. The historic properties housing these businesses have all been carefully brought back to life and reflect their place in the community.

Karen Conn is the CEO and president of Conns Hospitality Group. For her, the mission of the company, Preserving history through hospitality,” motivates her every day.

Illinois history is important to me because I believe we have to preserve our history in order to appreciate our future and to put money where my mouth is,” Karen said. We take historic properties. We take historic concepts. We take stories, and then we introduce those to the retail, lodging, and restaurant concepts we roll out.”

We came up with the idea and the concept of taking historic properties and preserving them and then sharing them with people through hospitality just as a grassroots. It was a passion for me to do renovation of old properties. It was a passion for me to preserve historic elements within properties, furniture, and antiques,” she said.

Conns Hospitality Group started small with a team of 12 employees and has grown with focus, tenacity and dedication. In 2024, there are now 180 people who are employees with the Conns Hospitality team.

Conns Hospitality Group today is what it is, because of the team that we have in place. It is not Karen who does all of this, it is the team,” Karen explained. Whether that is somebody doing dishes or somebody running the cash register or somebody doing the inventory of product lines. It takes the team to get it done.”

Conn’s journey into renovation and entrepreneurship started when she was a child. She recalls her parents always renovating something, always telling a story, and always preserving a piece of antique furniture. She says as she grew older, she became involved in the hospitality business as her first job, and the lifestyle just clicked.

The portfolio managed by Conn’s Hospitality Group is diverse and deep, restoring iconic properties from a community’s past to ensure they will thrive into the future.

We have a large project underway in Springfield in the inner, urban city area called Vinegar Hill Mall,” Karen said. As I sit here today, I never know what tomorrow’s going to bring. If we see something that piques our interest or we think that it could add value to a community, we jump on it.”

Karen’s latest brainchild is The Elkhart Station General Store, in the tiny town of Elkhart, which on a good day has a population of 500. Karen and Court Conn now live in Elkhart and decided to invest in a historic building in the middle of town.

This is the perfect building and it is on Route 66. It is a tourist trade, it is a small-town community, and it is the nostalgia we are trying to highlight,” Karen stated.

All products sold at The Elkhart Station are made in Illinois. The store features Illinois crafted spirits, beers and wines. There are all kinds of Land of Lincoln consumables, including cheeses, jerky, beer nuts, pork, beef, pizza doughs, and frozen pizzas. Elkhart Station also features local artists and Illinois pottery.

There is a tasting room at Elkhart Station where customers can sip on glasses of Illinois-produced wine from West of the Wise Winery.

We like the wine business because we get to produce an Illinois product and bring it to the community and the rest of the state,” explained Darryl Simmermaker co-owner and winemaker of West of Wise Winery.

We like teaming up with the Conns and being in Elkhart Station because it is so focused on Illinois products and that is what we are. We use all Illinois grapes for our wine. They are very easy to work with. It is a great place.”

Karen Conn says Conn’s Hospitality Group takes its responsibility very seriously as a steward of Illinois history. She acknowledges that it is critically important to establish a powerful partnership with every community in which they take on a project.

I feel it is very important that any community that we go into, I pick the phone up, I call the mayor, and then I start going down the list of any elected officials, whether they are ward representatives, committees, whatever, I reach out to them,” Karen explained. “It is important they know who I am, what our team does, what we stand for, and that they understand it is not about the money. The money does not motivate us. We want to be a positive factor in the community. I would like to think that we are leaving a positive impression in the community and the people that work for us because, ultimately it all boils down to people. That’s the most important thing is we are trying to return what we think is important to them.”

What do I want people to know about retail in the state of Illinois? I want them to know that it is the backbone of life. Everything we do is about retail,” Karen exclaimed. We go shopping for our food, we go shopping for our gas, and we go… shop, shop, shop, shop. That is retail in my mind.”

“You go out and are entertained and that is retail. You grab a bottle of wine, that is retail. You get a glass of wine, that is retail. The clothes that we wear on our back, that is retail. It is a fundamental part of life, and we have to support retail. We have to support our brick and mortars. We must support the small businesses, because if we do not, I am afraid they will close, and then we lose our opportunity of choice.”

I feel I have a responsibility to leave a community, whether it is Springfield, Elkhart, or Peoria, better than when I found it,” Karen stressed. I enjoy what I do in rehabbing properties, creating concepts, telling a story, sharing that story, feeding people, making them laugh, making them happy. So yes, I do see in the future that I will do more and more properties, as long as I am able to get out of bed and hold a hammer.”

Central Illinois

Whimsy Tea

IRMAApril 15, 2024

Leave a Reply